The race for last place comes full circle this week as the Minnesota Twins come to Cleveland to take on the Indians in what is sure to be one of the most futile three game series we’ve seen in a very, very long time. That’s right Tribe fans, it’s time to get excited! And none of you thought these games were going to mean anything two or three weeks ago.
While the White Sox and Tigers battle it out for first place and the right to represent the AL Central in the postseason this year, the Twins and Indians are battling for something much more dishonorable. They’re battling one another for the right to call themselves the worst team in the division and ultimately, the worst team in the American League. Sure, those titles might not be as prestigious or glamorous as division champ, but there’s pretty good chance they’ll be just as memorable.
It won’t come easy for either team, though. Achieving such a distinguished feat rarely is. Coming into play tonight, the Twins (60-87) are 4-6 in their last 10 games and hold a one game lead over the Tribe (61-86) for last place. While the Twins have been the resident cellar dwellers in the Central for the majority of the season, a recent late season push combined with what can only be described as a new and unusual set of goals by the Indians has threatened to evict them.
However, the Twins refuse to let pride take over. They know what they have a chance to not achieve this season and have essentially matched the Indians loss for loss for the past two weeks. The level of futility has been something to marvel at. They’ve also done an excellent job of placing pressure on the Indians by routinely losing games before the Indians have even had an opportunity to take the field. That’s the sure sign of a team striving to not achieve greatness, but how have they done it?
The Twins utilized an absolutely wretched start to the season to build a substantial lead for last place. They also used the classic combination of an inept offense incapable of putting crooked numbers on the score board and a pitching staff that couldn’t get anyone out. While they’re offense has seen substantial improvements as the season has worn on (they currently rank 9th in batting average, 7th in OBP, and 13th in runs) the pitching has remained their Jello mold of a foundation. Entering into play tonight the Twins have the second worst pitching staff in all of baseball, ranking 29th in most major categories. They’ve also had to deal with their fair share of injuries and rotation shakeups, all of which have helped put them in prime position to take last place.
As for the Indians, after an early season surge to the top of the division, they apparently reevaluated the landscape of Major League Baseball and decided on a different course of action, one that didn’t involve them being overachievers. How else do you explain such a dramatic slide from first place all the way down to last place? Exactly, you can’t because any normal team would have taken the proper precautions to prevent such a prat fall from happening. But, whereas the Twins knew what they were heading into the season for the most part, the Indians had to transform midseason into a team capable of making a run for last place. That’s no easy feat.
While the Indians have used some atrocious pitching thanks to Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Tomlin, and Roberto Hernandez, just to name a few, the they’ve really taken advantage of sub-par performances from a number of players and injuries to make a run at the bottom of the AL Central. Entering play tonight, the Indians have the second worst run differential in all of baseball at -179. It’s exactly what you think it is. They don’t score nearly enough runs to compete on a nightly basis and they give up way too many to even the weakest of opponents.
Injuries have been by far the biggest reason the Indians have been able to turn this into the epic race that it has become. Grady Sizemore never took an at bat in spring training, Travis Hafner has made his routine 27 trips to the DL, Lonnie Chisenhall broke his wrist, various pitchers have made their way in and out of the rotation and bullpen, and a number of other key position players have missed time with bumps and bruises. With all of that in mind, how could the Indians not find themselves in this position entering this pivotal series?
So with all of that in mind, this is where we find ourselves with the Indians. Rather than competing with the Tigers for first place like all of us assumed they would back in April, they’re in a dead sprint with the Twins for last place. Games that were supposed to be exciting and mean something and have been diminished to one big joke. The fan base is ticked off, the players look like they’ve quit and ownership is in PR spin mode. It’s crazy how we’ve gotten to this point, but what else are we supposed to do, sulk? We might as well accept what the Indians are at this point and take a shot at greatness. Of course, by greatness I mean the complete exact opposite.
Brace yourselves, folks. The race is on!